Calgary's Top Fish Stores
Sitting where we are, locked between the vast Canadian plains and the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, it’s easy to understand why Calgary has never been known for its fish.
Sure, we have rainbow trout in the streams and walleyes in northern lakes, but anything else must make a very long trip to get here.
It has only been in recent years, since top West Coast chefs like Michael Noble arrived to raise the seafood bar in restaurants, that we’ve seen a consistent supply of really fresh fish in local shops.
Today, many fish shops have a fresh supply flown in daily. So, while it can be expensive to feed your fish habit in Calgary, it’s fresh.
But there’s more to fish these days than simple supply and demand. You want to know you’re buying the best fish, both for your health and for the health of the planet.
There may be no waters murkier than those around the subject of fishing.
We’ve fished many species — from Atlantic cod and bluefin tuna to swordfish and sturgeon — to the brink of extinction.
On the other side of the equation is ocean-based fish farming, a practice that gives us loads of cheap salmon, but endangers wild populations in Canada and destroys habitat and other species where fish are farmed around the world.
It’s hard to choose a fish that’s environmentally safe to eat without doing your homework.
But thanks to the Vancouver Aquarium’s Sea-Choice initiative (seachoice.org), and the new Ocean Wise restaurant labelling program, there’s less guesswork in doing the right thing when buying or ordering fish and seafood.
With a SeaChoice card (which you can download off the website), you can rely on the latest science, as it relates to specific fish stocks and sustainable fishing practices, to help you decide which fish to buy. There’s even a wallet-sized sustainable sushi guide.
But it’s complicated. Not even the scientific community agrees on which stocks or fishing methods are safe and sustainable, and it’s a constantly moving target, so you need to update your information regularly, and ask a lot of questions at the fish counter.
Chefs are on the leading edge of programs to save the oceans’ fish populations, doing their best to keep up with all of the information about sustainable fishing, offering Ocean Wise fish on their menus, and refusing to serve farmed salmon, sea bass or swordfish. Still, it pays to be knowledgeable about what you’re buying.
You have to sleuth to find really fresh fish in Calgary, but it’s there.
One of my favourite spots is Blu Seafood & Market (9675 Macleod Tr. S.W., 403-252-2330), where chef and fishmonger Brian Plunkett sells a variety of fresh fish, and his own ready-to-cook fish dishes. Not only can you find nice fresh oysters, fat scallops, fresh halibut and smoked sablefish (black cod) in the fresh fish counter, there are yummy prepared foods including fresh salmon burgers, crab cakes, seafood brochettes and seafood mac-and-cheese to take out. Plunkett also has a fresh meat counter, and is a good resource for recipes and instructions for cooking that side of salmon, so it’s a one-stop gourmet shop.
Boyd’s Lobster Shop (1515 14 St. S.W., 403-245-6300) is another good place to shop for lobster and other seafood, with a large selection of fresh and frozen fish. Longtime employees Paul and Gerard Cormier took over the company from Blaise Boyd in 2001, and have fresh fish arriving in the shop daily. You’ll also find their fresh stock and bouillabaisse.
In the northwest near Foothills Hospital, you’ll find Billingsgate Fish (1941 Uxbridge Dr. N.W., 403-269-3474), the granddaddy of Calgary fish markets, which first opened in 1907, and is still run by the same family four generations later. Billingsgate offers the full complement of fish and seafood, with a café serving the catch for lunch or dinner as part of the package.
Supermarkets aren’t always the best places to look for something as perishable as fresh seafood, but there are a few exceptions.
Asian markets like T&T (800, 999 36 St. N.E., 403-569-6888; 1000, 9650 Harvest Hills Blvd. N.E., 403-237-6608) have tanks of swimming tipalia, Dungeness crab and shellfish, with skilled staff on hand to fillet on demand. You’ll find frozen sushi-grade fish here, and at Arirang Oriental Foods (30, 1324 10 Ave. S.W., 403-228-0980).
Sunterra Market’s Sirocco Drive location (1851 Sirocco Dr. S.W., 403-266-3049) has a nice seafood counter, and on the wholesale side, there’s City Fish (8, 3515 27 St. N.E., 403-250-8222), Albion (5, 3320 14 Ave. N.E., 403-235-4531) and even Costco (99 Heritage Gate S.E., 403-313-7647; 2853 32 St. N.E., 403-299-1600; 11588 Sarcee Tr. N.W., 403-516-3700), which routinely offers fresh pickerel from Vancouver.
Speaking of local fish, you’ll find Alberta’s own smoked salmon and trout from Cunningham’s Scotch Cold Smoking in Pincher Creek at a variety of local food shops, including Second to None Meats (3, 2100 4 St. S.W., 403-245-6662; 7400 Macleod Tr. S., 403-252-9924; 4612 Bowness Rd. N.W., 403-247-4004) and Janice Beaton Fine Cheese (1017 16 Ave. S.W., 403-229-0900; 1249 Kensington Rd. N.W., 403-283-0999).
Always ask the fishmonger about the fish you’re planning to buy, as well as when and where and how it was caught. If it’s not perfectly fresh, you may be better off with a frozen fish product. FAS (Frozen at Sea) fish is often the best quality fish you can buy.
The great thing about fish is it’s so fast and easy to cook. It’s also lean and loaded with healthy omega-3 fatty acids. You can cut your risk of heart disease by eating fish twice a week.
If you like whitefish like sole or pickerel, try seasoning the fillets with salt and pepper, then dusting lightly with flour.
Pan-sear the fish on both sides in butter and olive oil, then squeeze fresh lemon over your fried fish and serve.
For a super-crispy coating, try Japanese panko bread crumbs, cornmeal or crushed rice cereal.
On the grill, think about cooking your side of salmon on a cedar plank that’s been soaked in water and rubbed with olive oil. The plank sits right on the grill and adds a subtle smoky flavour to the fish as it cooks.
Or try steaming fish, Asian-style, with a little black bean sauce and ginger, or a slather of miso paste.
Fish should never be overcooked as it’s lean and dries out quickly. The general rule is 10 minutes per inch-thickness of fish, over medium high to high heat, but err on the undercooked side. The residual heat in the fish will cook it through while it rests.